Journal of proteomics

Proteomic analysis of the crayfish gastrolith chitinous extracellular matrix reveals putative protein complexes and a central role for GAP 65.

PMID 26320723


Chitin is a major component of arthropod cuticles, where it forms a three-dimensional network that constitutes the scaffold upon which cuticles form. The chitin fibers that form this network are closely associated with specific structural proteins, while the cuticular matrix contains many additional structural, enzymatic and other proteins. We study the crayfish gastrolith as a simple model for the assembly of calcified cuticular structures, with particular focus on the proteins involved in this process. The present study integrates a gastrolith-forming epithelium transcriptomic library with data from mass spectrometry analysis of proteins extracted from the gastrolith matrix to obtain a near-complete picture of gastrolith protein content. Using native protein separation we identified 24 matrix proteins, of which 14 are novel. Further analysis led to discovery of three putative protein complexes, all containing GAP 65 the most abundant gastrolith structural protein. Using immunological methods we further studied the role of GAP 65 in the gastrolith matrix and forming epithelium, as well as in the newly identified protein complexes. We propose that gastrolith matrix construction is a sequential process in which protein complexes are dynamically assembled and disassembled around GAP 65, thus changing their functional properties to perform each step in the construction process. The scientific interest on which this study is based arises from three main features of gastroliths: (1) Gastroliths possess partial analogy to cuticles both in structural and molecular properties, and may be regarded, with the appropriate reservations (see Introduction), as simple models for cuticle assembly. At the same time, gastroliths are terminally assembled during a well-defined period, which can be controlled in the laboratory, making them significantly easier to study than cuticles. (2) Gastroliths, like the crayfish exoskeleton, contain stable amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC) rather than crystalline calcite. The biological mechanism for the stabilization of a naturally unstable, but at the same time biologically highly available, calcium carbonate polymorph is of great interest from the pharmaceutical point of view. (3) The gastrolith organic matrix is based on a highly structured chitin network that interacts with a variety of substances. This biologically manipulated, biodegradable structure is in itself of biotechnological and pharmaceutical potential. A growing body of evidence indicates that proteins play central roles in all above aspects of gastrolith construction. This study offers the first comprehensive screening of gastrolith proteins, and we believe that the analysis presented in this work can not only help reveal basic biological questions regarding assembly of mineralized and non-mineralized cuticular structures, but may also serve as basis for applied research in the fields of agriculture (e.g. cuticle-based pest management), health (e.g. bioavailable calcium supplements and biodegradable drug carriers) and materials science (e.g. non-toxic scaffolds for water purification).

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